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Rookie Tales ... with John Henson

Shot-Blocking Big Man Recalls His Freshman Campaign in Milwaukee
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Beat Writer

Rookie Tales ...
with John Henson

Shot-Blocking Big Man Recalls His Freshman Campaign in Milwaukee


The Conference-leading Bucks rolled through town and showed why their length has led them to a double-digit win streak. One current Cavalier – and former Buck – will eventually help Cleveland combat opposing squad’s size when he returns from injury.

John Henson has had some rough luck over the last two seasons. He missed the final 68 games last year after undergoing wrist surgery and a hamstring ailment sidelined him after just one appearance this season. But he’s been working hard in Independence and closing in on getting back to game action.

When he returns, he’ll give Cleveland a dimension it’s lacked for a while – true rim-protection. The Cavaliers haven’t had a player block over 100 shots since Big Z did so in 2007-08. Henson registered triple-digit swats in four of his first six seasons with Milwaukee.

Henson was the Bucks’ 14th overall pick back in 2012 – the same Draft that Cleveland tabbed Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. He had his best offensive season a sophomore when he averaged 11.1 ppg; his best defensive campaign a year later, averaging 2.01 blocks per contest.

Within the next few games, Cavs fans should finally get a look at the lithe big man who arrived in a mid-season deal a little over one year ago.

For those looking to get a head start on the former Tar Heel – and with Friday’s thrilling matchup with Milwaukee still fresh on our mind – here’s Henson’s Rookie Tale looking back on his freshman campaign back in the Bradley Center days …

John Henson swatted over 100 shots in four of his first six years in the league.
Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images


What was it like having three other North Carolina guys – Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and Zeller – also getting taken in the first round that year?

John Henson: It was really cool. It was a big lesson for me that winning is what gets the awards and the rewards. I’ve taken that approach into the NBA and it’s helped me last this long. I really believe in it.

It was exciting to see my friends, my roommates, get drafted. We had some rough days together at Carolina.

Did you have any idea before the Draft that you’d end up in Milwaukee?

Henson: Yes, they had said that if I make it to No. 14, I’d be picked. I was actually supposed to go to Detroit at No. 9, but Drummond dropped – so they grabbed him and the rest is history.

I was blessed to be with Milwaukee, an organization that really wanted me. And I think as a young player, that really helps – rather than, you know, ‘He fell to this spot, so we have to take him.’

Is there still a big alumni presence when it comes to former North Carolina guys?

Henson: We have a large, large group chat. It might be 50 guys on WhatsApp. It’s happy birthdays, congratulations, things of that nature. And we all keep in contact.

And the summer game at Chapel Hill?

Henson: Yeah, we have an offseason pro alumni game.

And then a lot of guys are just around, working out, hanging out, getting better. So, it’s a good environment.

Scott Skiles doesn’t seem like an ideal head coach for an incoming rookie. What was he like?

Henson: I liked him, man! He held everybody accountable. I think that’s the hardest thing to do in this league – hold everybody accountable, from 1 to 15.

A guy might mess up, and it can be an All-Star or it can be the 15th guy, but he’s gonna get after them and tell them to sit down and put somebody else in.

"That was a great group of old guys, they took care of me. They taught me a lot – and I listened. In my first and second years, those guys probably had no idea how much they instilled in me. So I want to do that for our rookies here."

John Henson, on how veterans shaped his career

I had no beefs with him. I learned my lesson; I learned a lot of good lessons.

I learned how to be a pro, so it was good.

That was an interesting group of veterans – Monta Ellis, Drew Gooden, J.J. Redick, Tobias Harris. What were they like in your rookie season?

Henson: That was a great group of old guys, they took care of me. They taught me a lot – and I listened.

In my first and second years, those guys probably had no idea how much they instilled in me. So I want to do that for our rookies here.

It may not seem like much to them now, but when they’re 10 years in and you’re long gone, they might have some good habits that they picked up from you way back when. That’s what I’m trying to do.

Was there a certain veteran who looked out for you?

Henson: Yeah, Drew Gooden really took me under his wing, really showed me the ropes.

And even in my second year, Zaza Pachulia – I had to guard him and play against him every day, watch his habits. And I give him a lot of credit back then too – his approach to the game, his professionalism, his work ethic. I took a lot from him as well.

But Drew would take you to dinner. ‘This is what you do; this is how you act. This is what you don’t do.’ Stuff like that. I learned a lot.

Any vet that was especially tough?

Henson: I would say, like, Monta Ellis was tough on me.

But he was tough on me in a good way. He was a tough-love-type vet. But he took care of me – a lot of drop-offs, a lot of lobs, a lot of easy scores – just off his ability to get into the lane, his speed.

So, it was fun to play with Monta – and, to be honest, I think he still has it. So I hope he gets a chance.

What was the rookie initiation like back then?

Henson: I had to get McDonald’s every day. I had to get donuts. Wings, pizza for the plane. I had to go buy Xboxes on the road – stuff like that.

I personally think, at any level, anywhere you go, you have to start out humbled and learn the ropes and learn how to listen and respect your elders.

I don’t know if ‘initiation’ is the word for it; I mean, they’d give you $1000 for a $400 X-box. I was like: OK!

It wasn’t that bad. The older guys always took care of you. When they took you to dinner, you didn’t pay for anything. So, it was worth getting a couple pizzas.

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